Selecting wines for an Indian restaurant is always a challenge, so at the Quilon they've gone for carafes, an extensive beer list and sake in a bid to meet the level of the food, says Fiona Sims
The Quilon won a Michelin star this year, so it's understandable that the wine list has just been revamped. Luckily, executive chef Sriram Aylur is rather partial to wine, along with restaurant manager Santanu Mazumdar. But they needed a little help, and this came in the form of wine consultant Peter McCombie.
The food is from the south-west coast of India, so there's less spice than in many a curry house, and virtually no ghee and little cream. "It's a lot more subtle, so matching wine with this food is much easier here," says Mazumdar.
So the list has been completely overhauled, with a staggering 85 wines by the 375ml carafe in addition to by-the-glass. Beers, too, have been upgraded. The restaurant now offers 12, including Deus, Liefman's Frambozen, Innis & Gunn and Liberty Anchor Ale. There's also a new selection of six sakes to accompany the Quilon's seafood dishes.
About 40% of the Quilon's customers order wine. The next biggest chunk of booze sales is 30% beer. The rest is made up of soft drinks, spirits and those sake, which Mazumdar admits are "still a little slow".
For a smart St James's restaurant, this 30% beer figure is particularly healthy. But then this is an Indian restaurant, and the Brits do rather like a beer with their curry. A special beer and food tasting menu helps direct people around the list. Eight beers and 14 dishes (priced at £75 per person, including the beer) have been partly inspired by the Beer Academy's Rupert Ponsonby.
Belgian heavyweight Duvel is suggested with cauliflower chilli fry and crab cakes, while Corsican ale Pietra is paired with grilled scallops with spiced coconut cream and peppered shrimps. According to Mazumdar, "the beer has wonderful roasted chestnut flavours, which works really well with the spices in these dishes".
He adds: "If people don't want the full menu, then we often serve them fewer courses, with two or three beers to match." Mazumdar takes his cue from customers when they ask what beers he has - 50% will experiment. "Most people are willing to try new things - even the Deus, which has an abv of 11.5%. They see that it works so well as an aperitif, and are inspired to match more," he says.
But sake and Indian food? Where did that one come from? "This is the first time we've done it. But we didn't want to list just one sake, so we chose six that went best with the food. A lot of Japanese come to the restaurant, and sake is growing in popularity. Plus it goes really well with some of our coconut-based dishes," explains Mazumdar.
The wine list is split by style - crisp, fragrant, fruity, rich and rounded for the whites juicy, sensual, generous and classic for the reds, plus Chardonnay gets its own section, as do Bordeaux reds. There's a now well-established view that tannic reds and chilli spices are a no-go area, so McCombie and co have singled out softer, juicier styles.
Best sellers so far include Riesling for whites - both New and Old World - and Chablis, predictably while the Pinot Noirs are selling well on the red front. The two Indian wines, from Grover Vineyards, are also selling well. Average spend on a bottle of wine is about £40, says Mazumdar.
Thanks to Mazumdar pushing them, an obscure Portuguese red from the Minho, Quinta do Covela, at £40 a bottle (or £20 by carafe) served slightly chilled and another northern Portuguese, a Loureiro from the Vinho Verde, Quinta do Ameal, at £42 a bottle are performing well. They may be odd, but they're selling very well. "That's always the way when you get behind something," says Mazumdar.
What's on the list
- Sake: Kubota Manju Daiginjo, Niigata, Japan, £60
- 2007 Knappstein Ackland Vineyard Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia, £36
- 2006 Quincy, Domaine des Ballandors, Loire, France, £36
- 2007 Huia Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand, £40
- 2006 Franz Hirtzberger, Hockrain Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, Austria, £76
- 2006 Stonier Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia, £34
- 2005 Chevrey Chambertin, Les Trois Vieilles Vignes, Heresztyn, Burgundy, France, £75
- 1999 Bierzo "Corullon" Descendientes de J Palacios, Leon, Spain, £105
- 2004 Crianza, Casa de la Ermita, Jumilla, Spain, £28
The Quilon Restaurant & Bar, 41 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AF. Tel: 020 7821 1899 www.quilon.co.uk